Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Imbalance of Trade

In a couple of hours I'll start riding my mountain bike north. Along the beach for a few miles, then inland, and then up from sea level to 2000 feet at the top of the range that divides Santa Monica from the San Fernando Valley. Then I'll coast down the other side in a long roll that ends in Canoga Park, where Ron works. What does it say about my own neediness that I'm willing to make this long ride just so I can have lunch with him?

It should be simple. God saw that Adam was alone, put him to sleep, took out a rib and made a woman so they could be companions. "It isn't good that man is alone." Yet from this simple act has grown dating, valentines, fancy restaurants, insecurity and guilt. I figured I was better off without it. Life was complex enough.

My disinterested viewpoint has led to some unusual observations. Men say women are frustratingly inscrutable, women say that men are frustratingly narrow-minded. Intellectually I realized that they're all wrong; the truth is that people are complex and the particular mix of components we see of one person at one time won't be the same as what we'll see tomorrow, or in an hour or so.

Accurate as that assessment may be, it seems to be little help in the real world, How does one build bridges between people? I don't know. It just seems to happen, or not. Or the bridge is built and then dynamited from one end or the other with the goal seeming to be to damage the other person as much as possible. I know my limits. I stayed out of the game.

On the way back from the beach on Sunday, I was walking beside one of the women Chris had invited to his brunch. Our conversation strayed from something I know, sand sculpture, to something I don't know, relationships.
"I've never participated very much in that."
"Why not?" she asked.
"I never learned to speak the language. I don't know how to approach women."
"You just ask them. Not in a slimy way, of course."
"How can it be anything other than slimy?"

The man knows what he wants, and the woman knows what he wants. What I've never known is what the woman wants. Looking at the couples who walk the beach it seems that women want either thugs or guys talking on cell phones. I have no interest in being a thug, and the people at work already call me too often so I'll refuse the cellular leash even if someone gives me one.

What does anyone want? My guess has always been real contact through communication, but that always seems to be redefined as diamonds and flowers. Maybe communication has gone out of style. I just don't know. Never have known.

The only thing clear right now is that with Junkyard Dog no longer in control my internal balance is changing. What's on the other side of that long-established boundary? At least that brings me back to a simple concept, one that my simple mind can comprehend: the only way to find out is to go. Over the hill to something that might turn into friendship, or that will help me learn what friendship really is. I'm glad God has a sharp machete that can cut through the thicket of assumptions and pain so that I can see the truth. Someday.

2005 March 30
Posted to Blog April 5

Monday, March 28, 2005



The phone rings, interrupting the day's even temper. Morning rain followed by strong wind wiped out the plan to ride down to REI in Manhattan. I'm sitting, feet up on the desk, reading a biography of Robert Scott, the Antarctic explorer. While the author of this book is clearly biased toward Scott, it would seem that I started reading Antarctic history just in time to catch the revisions that displaced Scott as the hero and replaced him with Amundsen. After all, Amundsen got to the South Pole first, and he lived, and our culture believes in "Devil take the hindmost." Despite the bias the book makes clear that Scott wasn't anything like the bumbler he has been made out to be. The real events happened 100 years ago and my view comes only from writers and my own judgment. Discernment is accurate only when the starting information is correct; work from faulty premises and you quickly get lost and there's usually little hope of finding the truth unless there's a chance to go back to first principles. It's a reinforcement of a lesson I learned long ago: check facts and maintain some skepticism. In recent years I've not done so well with this. Giving up leads to sloppy work because, well, why would it matter? No one cares.

I pick up the phone. "Larry."
"Garble garble garble Carl garble garble."
I don't recognize the voice. I replay the statement in my mind, trying to assemble phonemes into recognizable patterns with a brain that is still half asleep. "What?"
Understanding telephone conversations is built on more than the words. A lot of interpolation has to happen. Finally speech processing catches up, just about the time Carl speaks again. "Carl."
"Yeah, I just want to say I love you, man."
The dreaded conversation has dropped into my unprepared lap.

Shortly after I visited Mosaic for the first time, Eric said he wanted to come by for a visit. We made the plans and I started worrying. What's he want? It can't be good. It'd have been better if he'd simply shown up on my doorstep and said "Let's go for a walk." That way I wouldn't have worried. It turned out to be a good conversation, but I still get that tight feeling in my gut when people in management say they want to talk to me. History is on the side of getting the riot act read to me. That the history was written 40 years ago doesn't matter. When safety depends upon making no mistakes at all only the most conservative approach is reliable.

"Thank you for the apology. I think the whole thing just got blown out of proportion."
"I think so too. I hope you didn't get lectured too hard."

God made his move a few months ago. I'd been over at the life group, talking with Nate's friend Peter who styles himself as an intellectual. I'm all for intellect but only as a way to get somewhere; entertaining wannabe ideas and blue-sky speculation just doesn't do much for me. Peter went on with his airborne theories and I kept telling him about the Holy Spirit. It was pretty funny. Something got into me; I'm not normally the kind to stand up and be visible. Live and let live. Don't poke the sleeping dog with a stick. After I got home I could feel God's pleasure, as if he weren't so much laughing as just delighted with the outcome. Two unique people following their natures.

Now any normal person would have taken God's appreciation and treasured it. These things are inverted in me and I got upset. What am I? A trained dog, to jump at my master's command and then get a pat on the head? I could see, very clearly, that my gut reaction was wrong but as in all other battles of this sort through my life, I lost, sliding backward. I refuse to be a device programmed by operant conditioning or affection. No sheep, no sir, not me.

Is a sheep only a sheep when it follows an external shepherd? What do you call a creature who is so easily herded by a suicidal junkyard dog? I called it hopeless. God called it an opportunity. Believe what you will. I've had discussions with pagans, believers in druidry, Buddhists and others. None of them offers what Jesus offers: real, second-by-second help with real problems. Belief isn't reality. Junkyard Dog was stronger than any of them, but he wasn't stronger than God.

Memory, however, is a problem.
"Hey, man, can we get together sometime this week? I have some time."
"Well, I've taken the week off from work. I'm beat. So I'm taking a break."
"Good plan. We all need that, right?"
"Yah. Anyway, name your day." Note the voice of confidence. A few days into the new world and I act like a new man.
"Let's see... Tuesday, no. Wednesday... Thursday I don't have anything. Or Friday. No, Friday I can't."
"Thursday's good for me."
"OK. Is 1330 too late?"
"I'm not on a schedule. Do you like Fatburger?"
"Sounds like a plan."
"Right. I'll see you then."

I put the phone down and my feet back on the desk. A while later, having finished the Scott book, I pick up another, a biography of Gus Grissom, the astronaut. This one is irritating. Some factual errors, some typos, some editing mistakes, and I'm more irritated than is really justified. This is
usually a hint that something's wrong.

Ground that seemed solid yesterday, that enabled me to wander around the courtyard after the Mosaic Easter celebration and actually talk to people instead of hiding in a corner, is now tilting. I thought that was over with. For a time I try to ignore it but as usual in these cases it doesn't work. Solve it today or solve it tomorrow. Next year no longer works.

OK. What's wrong? What am I afraid of? Usually irritation like this comes from some fear or another, and is usually connected with the Junkyard Dog. But he's either gone or muzzled.

Ah, habit. I have paced the boundary set by the Junkyard Dog's sharp teeth for so long that I just don't think very much about it but automatically alter my course to stay away. Carl is a person from the other side of the boundary. Habit says to placate, to leave him alone, to dread the meeting unless some way comes up to get out of it.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence, and you do what you have heard from your father." (John 8:31-38 NIV)

What is freedom? The ability to move to another city? Buying a new car? Being so adamantly free from other people's rules that I get wrapped up tightly inside my own? Jesus didn't die so that one set of rules could be replaced by another.

Might freedom be something so different from what we normally experience that we don't recognize it as such? Many "1984" style societies have been set up on this premise. "Trust me," the leaders say. "I know what's good for you. You're too confused to know." Many make the offer. One makes it happen: Jesus.

I stand at the sink, working on making dinner. Why do I act as if the Junkyard Dog is still around? God can declare me free, but I have to walk. The only way to prove that the boundary no longer carries a killing charge is to step over it. God will hold my feet steady, but he won't move them forward.

All right, Carl. Come on out. I'll try to listen. I'll also try to keep my claws sheathed.

2005 March 28
Posted to Blog, after indecisiveness, April 5

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Celebrating Sunshine

We finally got a Saturday without rain. Friday night I was having dinner with Debbie and Nate, and Nate asked me for help with buying a bicycle.
"I'll do it, but you'll have to bribe me."
"What's the bribe?"
"You have to come to the beach with me tomorrow and make a sculpture."
"OK, man, we'll do it. What time?"

My friend Rich took the photo above. I brought the "little" Powershot G2 for him to use but it wouldn't work. Once I'd thought about it a little bit I realized that maybe expecting the battery to go six months or so without being charged is a bit much. So he sacrificed his neck and picked up the EOS 1D and staggered around with it. Thank you, Rich. And now I'm going to charge the G2's battery.

Nate and Debbie turned out ot be naturals, doing more with their sand than most current professionals. Given more practice they'll both be better at this than I am.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Kronkles of Freedom

Through the open door I hear their car approach. I shut off the light as the horn honks, and walk out to close the door.
"Larry, man!"
"Yeah, whaddya want?" Might as well start out feisty. I'm in a fey mood.

I sink into the seat. Nate is somehow in the back seat; with this one all the way back, how does he fit? Deb puts the car in gear and we're on our way. She makes the first turn without trouble and I turn off navigation mode.

"I hope you don't mind. I'm very tired, so may not make much sense tonight."
"Why?" Deb asks. "What's been happening?"
"I don't know how to say it. Has to do with that story I sent."
"The 'Junkyard Dog' one?"
"Yah. It started a while back, with relationships. I really don't know what human relationships are for, and a few weeks ago I just gave up on trying to make things go as I thought they should. I decided that if I were going to get into any of that God would have to teach me how. Concentrating on God instead led to that confrontation with the Junkyard Dog, and now he's, well, just gone."
"What is that?" Nate asks.

"Junkyard Dog is... a part of me... or an aspect of my personality. Judgment. I think it's there to keep me out of trouble, but the problem is that he has a hair trigger and I never really know where the boundary is. Cross the boundary and he comes out. If I get too free, he pulls me back. That's why last Sunday was so interesting; I've never really seen him in action the way I did that night, when he got very upset, went for God, couldn't reach him and turned on me. Then the Holy Spirit stopped everything and the Junkyard Dog has been powerless ever since. I'm sort of stunned, still, and not sure what to do. How do I live without him?"
"What does that do?"
"Keeps me out of trouble." But the limits are set way to close. "I think God doesn't like that. I never know when I'm going to be attacked, so I have to keep to a small place. I just can't take those attacks any more. Do I really believe that God has this under control? I hardly dare to. Nothing has worked in the past, so I take tiny steps over where I think the boundary is and wait for attack."

By this time our food has arrived. Killer Shrimp is busy tonight. I let Debbie order the wine because she knows more about it than I do, and it turns out to be good. A strong red. She has her usual pinot grigio, which I've recently learned is a variety of wine, not a trade name as I'd

"Can you help me buy a bike?"
Oh, Nate, are you sure you want my help? My bike cost more than my car.
"OK. But you have to bribe me."
"With what?"
"Meet me on the beach and do a sculpture."
"OK, man, we can do that. What time?"
"Around 1300."
"That won't work, Babe. We're having breakfast with Carl."
"Oh, that's right. Maybe we can go earlier."

"The Email you sent out. 'Zeality.' Ummm..." Debbie turns a bit red, and looks down. I think I'm in trouble. "Has anyone called you about it?"
"No. As usual, I've heard nothing from anyone."
"We got a call from Eric. He's concerned about our life group."
Nate adds, "He also called Carl, and then other leaders called him. They think the group is having problems. So we're going out tomorrow to talk about that, where the group is going."

"As I wrote that I wondered what might happen. I didn't mention Carl's name, did I?"
"It wouldn't have been hard to figure out, though." I pause. "I wonder why they got upset with this one. They've gotten the other stories about this group. Eric's the only Mosaic leader who's on the Weird Email list." Later on I remember that we have an agreement: I gave him permission to distribute stories as he saw fit. "I thought about whether to write that, but, truth be told, I'm really tired of all of that. What happened to freedom?"

Wine is different from beer. Perhaps some people drink to muzzle their own Junkyard Dogs. With mine out of action the wine is even more effective. I'm on a roll. "In vino veritas."
"In vino veritas. Latin. 'In wine is truth.' Normal censorship is washed away."
"Wine. Vino. Vineyard. The same word!" Nate says.
"Yes. The same root. The Latin W is pronounced as our V."

"I understand what churches are trying to do. They want to make disciples. But don't they trust the Holy Spirit? People get saved, go to church, and it's like stepping from one cage to another. If Jesus died to make the prisoners free, then were the hell's the freedom?"
"They're in a hurry," Deb says. "They feel urgency, and that's a good thing. I guess. The Lord could come back in the next five minutes."
Nate, napkinless because we used them all as we ate, has nothing to do with his hands but fiddle around with the car key as he watches us talk. "Yes... but people can only do so much. God seems to be quite willing to spend any amount of time working on people. And only he can change people. I'm simply amazed that he took on the Junkyard Dog. If all he wants is service, he could have just issued the orders and stood back. I wonder why no one said anything to me about that story. I think they may be scared of me, or perhaps they're afraid that criticism will make me turn away. Or maybe I'm just too weird."
"I could have sworn Erwin gave me a dirty look last Sunday, but it might have been imagination."

"We're all weird," Nate says.
"Yes. That's why we're together."
"Did you hear that," Deb asks. "I'm weird!"
Debbie has a very mobile face, expression coming and going quickly, like Nate's fingers as he talks. She's sitting in the cone of light from an overhead fixture that illuminates every feature.
"My mother said I had wrinkles on my forehead when I was born. Nate calls them 'kronkles.'" She smiles, producing kronkles.
"Oh, why are you giving away all our secret words?"

I know a man at work who is so vain that he gets regular Botox injections in his forehead to take out the wrinkles. The result is smoothness, yes, but it's a dead smoothness. No expression. I much prefer Debbie's expressiveness, even if it isn't fashionable. It's human, as God made her, as are Nate's quick hands.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence, and you do what you have heard from your father." (John 8:31-38 NIV)

The problem is that none of us knows what real freedom is. The church is modelled after society because that's what's familiar. Take that structure away and you're left out there on the weird edge of life, wondering what comes next and also wondering just who is going to come howling in from the wilderness, or from some dark hole inside, for the sole purpose and ugly fun of grabbing you by the throat and throwing you back into jail.

I am not going back. I don't care what it takes or who I have to fight to stay free. God muzzled the Junkyard Dog-god that ruled my life for 40-odd years, but it will take time to get rid of the habits he brought about. I know where the boundaries are. I've walked the edge often enough, looking out, wanting freedom. The bars are now removed. No teeth will come after me in the night. Am I brave enough to really believe this and act on it? Probably not. Bravery comes from the Holy Spirit, not me. So does freedom and individuality. May our kronkles live forever in an expression of God's lively love.

2005 March 26 (Midnight Missive)
Posted to Blog after much indecisiveness April 5

Monday, March 21, 2005


The Junkyard Dog vs. God

Ladeez 'n Gennulmen, we're proud to preezent to you the Fiiiight... uv... THEEEEE DECADE! In this kennel, uh, I mean corner, sorry, the Junkyard Dog! Undefeated. Renowned (how d'ya like that word?) for NEVER GIVING UP! Back this guy into a corner and LOOK OUT!

In the other corner, we have (Stan, iz this right?) (Yeah, man, just say it.) Um, over there is God. (Don't look like much, duzzee?) (I dunno. Sezzee made the univuhse.)

The crowd is silent. The Junkyard Dog just sits there. He's well-trained, never to make the first move. God gets up and moves forward.

There's an invisible line somewhere in the ring. Oh, yes, I'm very familiar with it. I know it's there, but never quite where. Only when I cross it.

God keeps moving, gently, slowly. He crosses the line and the Junkyard Dog takes off, teeth bared, dedicated to only one task: drive the danger away. It doesn't matter what the danger's name is, or what it looks like. If it crosses the line it's dangerous. He gathers speed, aims for the throat, leaps, and passes right through. God moves on, unaffected.

Junkie lands. He has a good head of steam going but no target. Anger gets the better of him as he spots me, standing on the sideline. His eyes flare red. This is another way to solve the problem: keep peace by killing the desire to change. He changes course and leaps, knowing only that something must be done.

The floor begins to tilt under me as the leaping mad creature of my mind closes in. It's all very familiar, and then it stops. Junkie's in mid-air, my feet grip the greased, slanting floor, and suddenly a lot of things become very clear.

Self-destruction. I can't count the number of times I've had good things start in my life and then watched them go, uncontrollably, down the drain. I leave fingerprints on the ground as I slide backward, back into the deep dark trench I clawed my way out of. That lesson gets repeated every time I think I've found a new way to live out from under the clamp of self-censorship Year after year, the same story. It's better to just stay in the trench, but that comes to a dead end.

Hope is the real enemy. It's always fake. But it won't stay down; it's almost as persistent as the censor. Almost. Hope never wins. Forget it. Years of psychoanalysis just taught the Junkyard Dog better ways to defend himself and therefore me. What's good for him is good for me, obviously. It's true, if by "good" is meant "untroubled." Could there be more to life, though? I'll apparently never find out.

God knocked on the door. If he'd have knocked very hard he would have not only knocked it off its hinges but brought the rest of the place down.
"You want the place? Sure. Go ahead. I don't care any more. Besides, you're probably just another false hope dressed in fancy words by a gifted preacher"

The church went away, the friends went away, nobody asked questions. God stayed put, never leaving me alone, always suggesting, always assuming that nothing was impossible. The very audacity was a constant surprise. "I gave up long ago. Don't you know better?" Apparently he didn't; he'd wait and then poke a gentle finger into the works.

And the Junkyard Dog would come out screaming. "Get out of here! Go away! Leave me the hell alone! I can see where you're headed, and I don't want it." God would back off for a time, and life would become very, very familiar. Darkness looks pretty much the same no matter where you are.

God is, however, a supreme artist in the realm of changing souls. He'd wait, then move and take just a bit more territory. The Junkyard Dog can be caught napping. When he wakes up I pay the price and the long slide starts again, but God wouldn't let me slide.

Junkyard Dogs know no reason. Nothing God did was unreasonable but that didn't matter. Junkie had his orders and he'd take the whole place down before he'd give up. I wanted to kill him but never could. I wanted God to stay away, leave sleeping dogs lie, but that's not his way. Wholeness was his goal. He didn't have to live with the consequences as I did, but on the other hand I had little choice. I knew where the other road led.

I've been very tired of late. Just plain worn out. Drag myself to work, drag myself home, don't answer the phone, just turn things off and go to bed. And then yesterday I had a bottle of Chimay and that pretty well took care of the afternoon. That's when the little scenario described above took place: Junkyard Dog gets upset, finally tries to take God out, is outmaneuvered and then finally, after all these years of being carefully hidden, shows his true nature by turning on me.

Then the Holy Spirit freezes the whole tableau. Damn. Ol' Junkyard has been ruling the roost around here and is responsible for limitations whose origins are lost in time but that have severely restricted what I can do. All those years wasted. By defending myself so closely and thoroughly I've aided my own depression. It's habit forming, too: the safety of the cage.

God isn't interested in killing off the defenses. I don't know what's on his mind. I'm still stunned. Can his love extend even to a hated, destruction-mad junkyard dog? Probably so, but then that means entrusting my safety to God. That's a lot like letting a fox guard the henhouse: God has his own ideas about what's right. Well, his judgment is often better than mine, but I still wish I could just wake up and have it all be over with.

Friday, March 18, 2005



The phone rings. I know who it is; at 1915 it can't be anyone else. I let it ring three times and then finally decide to answer it, just ahead of the voice mail system.
"Hey, it's Nathan, man. What about tonight? How are you?"
"I'm, um, OK." My voice gives me away; I don't have the energy to cover up."
"Hey, man, you OK?"
"More or less." The Snark-O-Meter (TM) is through the roof.
"You want to go, or just chillin'?"
"I'll pass."
"OK. We'll..." The voice fades. I can hear background noise, and then Debbie's on the line.
"Are you all right, Larry?"
"Yah. Just... worn out. Various other things." There's not enough time to get started right now.

So, she comes by the next day and we head for lunch. I offered Souplantation, she counteroffered with Mexican, and we agreed on Casa Blanca. I hope I'm not a charity case.
"We got our condominium."
"216?" We'd talked about this a few days back.
She looks at me, smiling, while thick traffic on Lincoln streams past. "Yes. It was amazing. The man ahead of us got discouraged and signed up for a different unit, so he was removed from the list for the one we wanted. Then the woman buying 216 backed out. We got it!"
"Sounds as if God wanted you to have that one."
"Yes! It was totally God. We'd given up. We don't deserve it."
"Of course you don't. None of us deserves anything, but God does nice things for us."
"I don't know why."
"Love." Of a kind none of us knows much about.

Inside the restaurant it's quiet. The lunch rush is mostly over. Outside grey clouds press. Rain is predicted, rendering tomorrow's planned sculpture doubtful.

Debbie sits across from me, sipping sangria. "So, what's going on?"
"Well... I finally wrote about it this morning. Have you read your Email?"
"Relationships. I keep being surprised by how serious God is about this. He's going for complete reconstruction. I keep expecting the minimum, as if a human being were running things. He has an idea of how he wants me to be and won't quit until that's done. No matter how much it costs him."
"Yeah. Wow."
"It's a message that churches don't seem to get. They're always in a hurry. God seems to take all the time necessary. I think he'll take 20 years to get someone right in order for them to have a year of doing something powerful. All these young people get saved and get pushed out to do things before they're ready, and they blow up like Lu's group did in Cyprus. No experience."
"Yes. The life group last night was like that. We got a lecture on service, while Jenny and Joe were working on serving this fantastic dinner they'd spent the week preparing. And Nate and I have hosted the life group. But it's never enough."
"Don't you think God is big enough, and mature enough, to get his ideas across to people?"
She smiles. "Service is part of it. I think you can't have the whole life without it, but..."
"There are many ways to do it. And time to learn it. Babies can't walk. They just lie there and wave their arms; you'd think they could never learn. They roll over, figure out how to scoot with motions that a little less than random, and then they start to get it. But it takes years before they're good at walking in the real world. They have to learn to look before they drop the clutch. There are walls and holes. Somehow the church expects everyone to be instant interchangeable Christian units. It doesn't work. We need a more human approach."
"Everyone's afraid of that. It's too soft."

"It's like any other creative process," I say, after some silence. "You go through plateaus. Everything goes well and then, suddenly, you can't do anything right. A few good sculptures, and then dead ones. It takes time to get through that. Part of the creative process. You have to fail, try things, fail."
"I've lost that. I used to go out and draw, and be very free. I'd sketch a building and it would be there. Now I look at the piece of paper and I'm afraid to make a mark. I don't want it to be wrong."
"That sometimes happens to me on the beach. I'm facing a pile of sand and have no idea what to carve. So, I just take a stroke and start."
"I do that, but the next stroke is just as hard."
"I don't have that problem. Once that first mark is made it's almost like sliding downhill. You know, what you need is more practice. Do it more often. Come on. I'll set up an easel, right now, and you can draw."
"I don't have to be home immediately."

The easel is improvised from scrap lumber, quick clamps and my big Gitzo camera tripod. A sheet of plexiglas supports the paper.
"Did you just come up with that, or have you had it?"
"I made it last year, for art forays at Mosaic. It was pretty funny. Lynn and I didn't know that we were supposed to create in a certain way, to fit some overall idea. My big sheets of paper just didn't fit. Do you want white paper, or black?"
"Oh, I don't..."
"OK, black it is." I get a sheet out of the flat-file drawer and tape it to the Plex. Then I get the boxes of pastels out of their parking place. "Here you go. Knock yourself out."
"OK." And she starts telling herself not to think.

That was the whole idea. If she gets too much time to think about this she'll become judgmental and the whole thing will die. Keep her off-balance. I start a CD by the Roches, from 1979, their voices filling the room, and Debbie takes a few tentative strokes on the paper. I say nothing. I don't even look, but bustle around getting out a sketch tablet and some oil pastels.

The music plays. I do my usual dramatic, highly colored style of chalk, but try some more subtle moves in a few places. What works on a driveway isn't so good here, where movements have to be more controlled, and end up looking controlled. I need experience. At this, I'm a beginner.

Deb isn't. She brings out subtle hints of poppies on the black sheet, using related colors and a deft touch to evoke the flowers.
"Are there any poppies that are pinky-purple?"
"Now there are."
"You're right."

Poppies are subtle, and delicate. Her drawing brings this out, quick little marks that show the translucency of the petals.

Outside, rain drips from the eaves. The promised storm has made landfall.

"That's it. I'm done."
I put the drawing in her car.
"Thank you, Larry, for the encouragement. This has been fun."
"You're welcome. I'm glad you had fun."

Who am I to tell God what he's allowed to condone as service? When the current system doesn't work very well, it's time to try experiments.

2005 March 18



A month ago:
"Hi, Larry," Debbie says. "How are you?"
I get in the front seat. Nate puts the car in gear and we head for Killer Shrimp. "I'm... frazzled. Tired, Up too late last night. And I think God has a hold on some major piece of me. I'm not sure what it is yet and I'm not sure I want to know."

After that I did what I usually do when a storm looms: duck. We had a storm cellar when I was a kid and a few times, when the sky turned greenish-purple, we went down there hoping the tornado would go somewhere else. Sickly sky, brick walls and the smells of musty basement and old fruit. Safety.

There is no safe brick room when God Himself is the tornado that threatens the fabric of life. Hiding does no good because he sees everywhere. He promises to hold our feet steady, to protect us, to keep us safe but the feeling is one of asking a cyclone for shelter. Is it any wonder that people have a hard time relating to him? That I alternate between cuddling and fleeing?

So, God gets ahold of a soulpiece. Every other piece that leans on that one quivers and the whole jury-rigged fragile structure that I've patched together for years trembles. Tornado on the horizon. Duck. Let it blow over and then pick up the pieces. Except that now there is no cellar; God has filled it in or locked the door. I have to watch, I must remain aware of what he's doing. Stay awake and trust that he will hold me together.

That's hard to do. No one else has ever helped. Why would I believe that the God who made the universe would care about one man?

Why believe anything? There are few facts and most of those don't relate to daily life. Real living is a process of assumption and testing, and only failure will teach me where the real limits are. Generations of teachers have hammered on the principle of not pissing God off. Don't test him, don't ask questions, just follow orders. Be a good soldier.

How much violence do you want to inflict on your soul? How many contortions to fit a sick society and its even sicker ideas of who God is? Given the choice between death and experimenting with God I chose the path whose outcome was less certain. This should have gotten me flattened. Maybe there are books by Christian experimenters but they don't make it into the publishers' catalogs. Those folks keep offering the same thing in new words: be a good Christian soldier. Follow orders.

it takes no great intellect to follow orders, and you certainly don't have to feel anything. What is the will of God?

An order-giving God is easy to live with. You get instructions and go do them.

A God whose modus operandi is relationship is incomprehensible to me. Mostly because I have no real idea of what a relationship is. I learned the rules without the heart. Within narrow limits I function pretty well but if pushed outside of those by events or invitation I find the terra quite incognita and my confidence evaporates. From solid ground I suddenly step onto moving, tipping pieces and my only thought is of the shelter of hidden solid brick. Let the storm go by. God can't possibly be like this. I'm deceiving myself.

Self-deception is usually self-limiting. If you believe that you can walk westbound on an eastbound freeway you'll soon learn the error. And yet it does happen, as generations of TV preachers have taught us. How can I stay with truth?

Beyond the model provided by human relationships is the tower of reality. Everything I do is an echo of God Himself; he made me as I am. Brains, yes, but emotions too, and body. All those messy things that I thought I'd eliminated or at least removed from consideration. A more advanced kind of life could be had beyond the limitis of emotion.

What happens when you find your more advanced kind of life fails? Monoculture farm susceptible to one little pest: truth. Self-deception. It doesn't fit the real world, as defined by the God who made it.

So, God works on presenting reality. It's new, different, and terrifying. Purple clouds looming, winds wrapping around my cardboard life. He does care. This has been demonstrated over and over, starting with Jesus giving his life so that I could be presentable to God. Why preserve one man? Love. Why push that man onward? Love. Why work on restoring that man to what he was conceived to be? Love. And a sense of humor.

God says to himself, "He thinks he's daring? Wait until he gets ahold of this idea!" I'm used to being the pathfinder, but then I find that the track is actually pretty well worn by others who have dared to question God, and pretty soon I find myself out in mid-air with only God's hand underneath as I walk a tightrope in gusty winds while holding a lot of empty cardboard boxes.

I sort of took a side trip. Thinking that God wouldn't want to be troubled, I tried to meet my needs through other people. There are some holes too deep for anyone to fill and I refuse to be an emotional leech in the attempt to do so.

The problem is that the slope is slippery. Where does legitimate need turn into leechiness? Better to stay away and even draw the line ever farther away. It's pretty cold out there on the edge, but I adapted.

God is light. And heat. A thawing heart is very hard to live with. I try to duck back into the cellar; no matter how cold it is, it's familiar as I'm surrounded with those old-time scents. Brick. Damp mold. But God uses the promise of light and warmth to winkle me out of there and I can't stay long. I see by his light what I'm missing, and what I've lived with all of my life and, believable or no I have to turn my face back to him.

So far, in the year and a half of this experiment, the only failure I've ever been convicted of is not being close enough to God. I've left him out of the events in my life, and I've been a wheel chock to stop the Holy Spirit's progress. Daring as my original thinking was it was way short of God's reality. He wants to be with me. Unimaginable.

Given even a hint of permission, God won't quit. He's the ultimate camel's nose in the tent flap, the strong fisherman using weak line to reel in a heavy fish by taking in slack in every opportunity to bring it in closer. Closer. Ever closer. Everything else comes from that relationship.

I've been letting him down lately by not writing. Events in my life have been strange, too weird even for "Weird Email." I've started several stories but lost my nerve and quit. God cares, even about what I'm feeling? I've never been very good at marching, but this level of individual and personal interest is beyond what I dreamed of at the outset. Just throw me a bone or two and I'll be OK.

No, God wants all. Everything. And everything he touches either burns or shines. His timing is exquisite, never touching one soulpiece until others are ready to support the ongoing process.

And it all depends upon him, more as time goes on. To separate God from his work is to remove the strong force from the nucleus of every atom, and things fly apart. I may not have much to show for the time I've spent with him, no great ministry, but my only cry is "I'm still here." If he lets go I won't be here. In order for there to be a future that's better than today you have to be here.

2005 March 18

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Dying to be Led

I'd just finished uploading some images to Photobucket when the phone rang.
"Hey, Larry, it's Nathan, man. You down?"
Snap decision. "Yes."
"We'll be by. Laters." Click. Nate is nothing if not concise on the telephone.

Just like that the day's course changed. Being rather fuzzy from too little sleep and lots of activity, the only big event I had planned was to go over to see my friend Rocket. Now I'm going to Mosaic's new Culver City celebration.

What is a barbarian? Erwin is big on the concept, and it's the core of his latest message series. When I think of barbs, however, I think of the Huns overrunning Europe and leaving no lasting legacy other than a scattering of new genes among the population. And yet I have no strong respect for civilization, either.

I passed on the first Sunday in Culver City, choosing instead to ride into the local mountains to see the new spring flowers. Church hasn't often been my first choice of activity. I can see the need for a way to be introduced to God, and Mosaic did that for me when I needed it badly, but since they left the west side it seems that my path has diverged, and practically no one from the church has expressed any interest in where I'm going. Like the little red hen who made her own bread I'm used to doing things myself.

Nate stops the car in front of my place and I fold my stiff legs into the seat.
"Which way, man?"
"Venice, Babe. Or Washington."
"Venice would be better," I say.

What is a leader? Does one who goes his own way, neither depending on others to find the way nor attracting a lot of followers, be considered a leader? Following is for sheep; while waiting for something to happen, I can go and make it happen. Leading is for people with a masochistic streak.

"There it is, Babe," Deb says as we drive past.
"Maybe there's another entrance." He makes the turn and there is.

I have no idea, really, what to expect. It'll probably be small, and what with the commitments at the other five services there will probably be no one I know from the Temple Slave cadre here.

We walk to the entrance. There are Rick and Susan handing out bulletins. We hug in greeting and then Andy comes out and I hug him, too. Then Grandizer comes running and we hug. Yep. There's nothing like walking into a room full of strangers. Eric comes out for a hug and I'm not so surprised to see him because Erwin won't be here until next week, so someone has to speak. Chris Lee and Ernae are also here, and Sandra is at the door. I stop to talk with her for a bit after we hug because her life has taken interesting turns lately and she has only hinted at this on her Blog.

Inside is another surprise. The room is just about full. David Arcos greets me and beyond him I see yet another surprise: Erwin. Nothing happens per schedule at Mosaic, which is one of its either endearing or maddening aspects, depending on your point of view. We shake hands and then Grandizer and I find a place to sit, Debbie and Nate on one side, Jenny and Joe on the other.

Every time I walk into a Mosaic meeting it's like coming home. The greetings are real, and warm, but where the heck are these people in the time between? Out of sight, out of mind. Am I the only one who wants real friendship beyond the church meeting?

The band is entirely unfamiliar to me, other than Dominic playing bass. They're all animated, into the music. We're late, as usual, made later by my round of greetings, so there are only two songs before the house darkens and the video screen lights up. What's shown there has something to do with barbarians, but it's incomprehensible to me.

Erwin walks to the front. "We're in the eighth week of our series on barbarians. If you're here for the first time you'll be lost." That's delivered deadpan, and then he goes on. "Today we're looking at leadership."

I've always felt like a barbarian in my mother's house. Everything she has is designed to fit a certain space, and everything is neat. She, herself, is neat and always well dressed. I, by contrast, practice housekeeping by geologic principles--whatever is newest is on top of the heap--and dress by FIFO. First in, first out. Next to her I look like an unmade bed.

"I think the church has turned into something that Jesus wouldn't recognize. It has become an institution." Yah, I think, and even Mosaic has its ways. And yet...

"Who will present to the people of the world God's love in a living way that will show everyone that he knows us and wants us to live fully alive? It's not enough for us to get life. We need to share it. Who will lead the way?"

Who will teach people to live? Erwin is on fire with his message, but it is incomplete. It's a great dream. How do you do it? How do you learn?

And the Holy Spirit opens the door in my mind and shows me. History. One way to learn is to become desperate enough to cry out to God for help. Recently I've been fighting this idea. God gets ahold of a person and he starts to burn with holy light, a lamp on a hill that becomes attractive to all of the sheep in the area.

Someone has to do it. And yet I wonder how many of the people standing and giving out their great barbarian yawp, at Erwin's instigation, are doing more than following the person standing next to them. I remain seated, refusing to yawp on command. If there's yawping to be done, the Holy Spirit, whose leadership I trust far more than anyone else's, will let me know.

God has changed many of the ways I live, but he has not removed my Berean tendency to think for myself. The events of my life led to that particular singularity, on the doorstep of Mosaic Beverly Hills and made me ready to get the message.

Life is hopeless without God. I'd lived a whole life by rigid rules and when I heard God's promise of living by love I took off and ran with the idea. If it's true I'll live, if it's not true I'll die and be no worse off than I would have been anyway. What's odd is how a Christian has to fight to avoid coming under a new set of rules. God sets us free so that we can be bound up in churches and holy guilt.

That's one reason Christians, as Erwin pointed out, can't be differentiated from non-Christians. Rules are rules, no matter who formulates them, and they kill.

How do you make a leader? Replace human will, human rules with the Holy Spirit.

Erwin's final point is a good one, and gives me much to think about. "We need barbarian leaders to show others the way." The principles of failure analysis lead one to the conclusion that it's better to prevent than to repair, and prevention comes from good extrapolation. What happened yesterday, and what's happening today, lead to what will happen tomorrow.

Almost all of the house stood to yawp with Erwin. Every one will be a leader? Is God really wanting to make every Christian a leader? Why not? Not everyone has to lead a horde. One or two turn into a small group, and those join to make hordes. One who leads in one area will be led in another in the real way of community.

Some of the extrapolation is personally distressing. I look back at my footprints, then ahead, and I can project the track into the future. It's a good thing God gives abilities as he gives the situation.

"Where's the restroom, Chris?"
"Near the door, on the right."
"Thanks. I'm about to explode." I hobble out on cold-stiffened legs

It's relatively easy for a long-time loner to go on his own path. Having been rejected by just about everyone, I learned to things for myself and leave the crowd behind. Turning necessity into virtue, I've learned to take pride in my ability to do things. I figured out how to make sand sculpture, inventing the technology and tools to make the kind of sculptures that I saw in my mind. Now, when someone calls me to see if I will make their corporate logo in sand, I silently sneer and give them the phone number of another sand sculptor. I don't do logos.

Andy and I talk for a bit as the celebration ends. There's a video announcement and then final song. I'd forgotten. Andy walks off to talk with some other people and I just lean on the wall, waiting. Erwin walks past, then turns to me. I move to shake his hand.
"Oh, give me a hug."
We do so.
"Will we see more of you?"
I look him in the eye. "Perhaps." Barbarians don't join stampedes. Desperate Larry, waiting for crumbs to fall from the big people's table, has learned from the Holy Spirit how to find better food.

"It's hard, learning how to care," Debbie says. She's sitting next to me at Dinah's, where we're waiting for breakfast on a very busy morning.
"Yah." I don't know how God will do it, but I've learned never to say he can't. Forgiveness is where we start, and that leads to honesty.

2005 March 13

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Saturday on the Beach

I didn't really know what to do today. After writing the story about our talk last night I just decided to go do a sculpture. The tide was appropriate for free-piling, so I called my friend Rich and told him I'd be there. He gave up his afternoon of fa-sol-la singing (shape-note) to join me on the beach on this cold, cloudy and windy day.

Here's the result, 05P-3.



I decided to find two things yesterday. I knew they were in the house, so I started at one end of the living room and worked my way to the other end. There are various places where the eddy currents in my life tend to drop small items, and there they stay, under growing geologic laminae, until I realize I'm missing something.

This time the layers were deep. I'd been looking for the multi-tool for months. I used to take it with me to work. A multi-tool is rarely the best tool possible, but if it's the only tool you have--I once installed a camera for the City of Los Angeles, 45 feet up on a pole, with one--it's by definition a great tool. I started at one end of the living room and examined all of the usual settling places, and didn't find either the multi-tool or the Powerbook disks. And it wasn't just because I'd started the cleaning process by having a lunch of barley. In its liquid form. Specifically, McTarnahan's India Pale Ale. It was good, and so was the Full Sail Amber that followed it. That was the only success.

So, I sat down and let my unhinged mind wander. Time off for good behavior. Then I remembered the "Church Kit," which I hadn't opened for months. I sometimes put the multi-tool in there in case Lu had a problem with the sound system at Beverly Hills that I couldn't solve with fingers only. I had found the Church Kit, so I got up and looked. There was the multi-tool. It's odd how these things happen. Why didn't I think of that months ago?

One down, one to go. The software disks for the Powerbook weren't where I thought they should be, over on top of the flat file. Usually, computer CDs are beside my desk but there was nothing in that stack that matched my memory of what the disk package looked like. I went through it again, idly, one by one looking at the disks instead of seeing what I expected. There's Photoshop 4.0, BBEdit 4.5 (I never thrown these things away, never can tell) and then some nondescript disks that, on second look, turned out to be the Powerbook software. I'd remembered them as being a black box full of CDs, but in reality they are two grey DVDs. So, they wouldn't have helped George, whose machine has only a CD drive.

How about that. Success. Two out of two. I opened another bottle of beer to celebrate.

One salutary effect of all this was that I could now see more of the living room floor than I was used to, helped by getting rid of the old Power Computing Mac clone that refused to start. Death through lack of use. I took out the disk drives so I could recover the data, and the ROM module (Apple, 1997) as a memento, and then hauled the remainder out to the trash.

So, all the settling places are clear, ready for new deposits. I sat down at the desk for a time, alternating between reading about Samuel Pepys and working on various Blog ideas. When Nate honked the horn, I was ready to get out of the house for a while. Killer Shrimp time.

I've not had much contact with people, other than at work, for a few weeks. I'm just tired of how it seems that if I don't constantly push, nothing happens. I feel as if I'm trying to start a fire in wet wood by using a blowtorch on it, but now I"m out of fuel. Accept reality. There's not going to be a fire. Maybe God is holding up a sheet of asbestos, so that I'll concentrate on him instead. Fine. If that's the way it is, good enough. It's amazing that the God of the Universe is even interested in what I'm doing, but he has proven it over and over.

A relationship with God is like any other in that it takes time. We talk about this, there in Killer Shrimp with the big white bowls of spicy sauce, and various other things.

"I think that as you spend time with God, you will change. You light up. That scares the crap out of me!"
"Because I'm a bottom-feeder! I'm used to drifting through life, not really being noticed. I stay out of the way. God's kind of life is different. I'll get turned into a torch. I'll get noticed. People who get noticed get shot at.
"Oh, I don't know about that. The leaders, the guys preaching, don't get shot at. They have ministries."
Debbie looks away, but smiles. "Oh, Larry, it's too late. You're already a torch. That's why we like having you at the life group. As soon as you walk in the door..."

That stops me in my tracks. I'd probably have freaked if the wine hadn't knocked the edges off my awareness. The taste of pinot grigio is a little odd after the beer. The name God has for me is becoming brighter, and I'm not sure what to do.

If Nate isn't talking with his hands, he's using them to draw. He'll use anything available. Tonight it's a napkin. He probably appreciates high-class places like this that offer good napkins; the cheap thin ones tear too easily.

"Do you pray for specific things, Larry?"
"Mostly not. For myself, anyway. I ask God for things for friends, but I figure he knows better than I do what I need. What would I ask for? I have everything I need. More than I need. Jacob wrestled with God to get a blessing. I wrestle so God will leave me alone." Maybe wrestling is the main idea. Contact with God is better than no contact.
"We ask for specific things. Little things."
"Why not? God really does love us."

"Tomorrow we're going to a meeting in Playa Vista. Pray that we'll get the unit we want. Number 216."
"What do you think about that, Babe? We asked God for a place in a certain area, and Playa Vista isn't in that area."
"So, we changed."
"But we thought God would find the place."
"So that means you'll miss the meeting tomorrow, or the unit will go to someone else. Does it really matter that much?"
"We like the Playa Vista place."
It's an interesting question. I ponder it, somewhat hazily, as we park in front of my apartment.

Debbie is a designer. She likes to have things in their places. She designs space. The space in my apartment happened by accident. Things hang on the wall where there were already nails, and things sit on the floor where they ended up when the help ran out. Nate loves it. Debbie keeps quiet. Except to ask questions.

"Why is this here?" She's holding a Kinder Surprise toy, liberated earlier that day from the paper overburden on my desk.
"That's where it ended up."
"What is it?"
"A toy. See how the hippo, or whatever that animal is, attacks the boat when I flip its tail?"
"I see. And what about this?"
"That's a sacred acorn."
"What are the rocks for?"
"Rock-rolling. Like golf, only longer and more fun."
"What's in the flat file? This is great. You don't mind the questions."
Actually, I'm very nervous. I have house guests about once per year and it almost feels like a raid. Manners hold.
"Photographs, maps and such."
Debbie opens the top drawer and finds the pile of proof sheets and miscellaneous photographs. Sheer density dissuades her, so she moves on to the second drawer.

"This is beautiful! It reminds me of a humpback whale, breaching."
"One of the early small sculptures. 96F-5. It was really windy so the sculpture had to be heavy. I got rained on too. A beautiful day." Roman 2. I still feel his absence even if I haven't named a sculpture for him in years.

Under that is a drawer of bigger photographs. She pulls out the big one of the Cold Canyon falls. "Which way does this go?"
I let her turn it around, and she figures it out.
"Did you take this?"
"Yes. Medium format."
"What's that, medium format?" Nate asks.
"Big negatives. Here's a 35mm camera." I show him a small Pentax, and then reach into a drawer and get out the 67II. "And this is medium format. The negatives are four times bigger."
"I see." Nate turns back to my Powerbook. He's exploring the Blogosphere via bootlegged wireless, trying to figure out the reality underlying the slippery concept.

Debbie keeps looking at photographs. "You're a photographer, Larry."
That's a very long story. No time tonight.
"We should go, Boom. The puppy."
"How long has it been?"
"Since 6:30."
"Pee timing, or loneliness?"

Nate gets up from the chair by the computer.
"I'm not sure I want to start a Blog yet. I don't know what to call it."
"Which of these do you like?" I show them 16X20 prints of the dudleya I shot in Castle Canyon, the Cold Creek falls, and the hills above Gorman with polychrome wildflowers.
"I lean toward this one," Nate says, pointing to the hillside.
"That's the one that draws me, too," Debbie concurs.
"OK. Happy birthday.
She hugs me in the narrow space between desk and flat file. When Nate first mentioned doing something for her birthday I'd thought of a photograph, but forgotten until now. The Holy Spirit at work, again, spreading God's light. Even that captured for a time in silver.

2005 March 12

Friday, March 11, 2005


Image of the Week

I've set up a new Blog just for images. The direct URL is It's a grab-bag of images that I like.


Sintered Soul

God holds clouds of hydrogen tightly enough, steadily enough, that the atoms overcome their normal repellent nature. They join and in the union become helium, and radiance. The energy fills cold space and makes our lives possible. If he can fuse hydrogen he can probably handle my loosely connected, but no less mutually repulsive, parts.

You can't shoot a cloud. Oh, you can, but the bullet passes through and leaves the collection of water droplets unchanged. It goes with the wind and evaporates in the sunlight but is safe enough from human meddling.

It's not a bad model for someone who wants to be left alone and doesn't much care where he ends up, so long as the first condition is met. A cloud of soul-parts making its dimly sensed way through a hot, hostile world, keeping as much as possible to shade and calm.

I'm now, however, under the care of a God who believes in relationship. It's hard for a cloud to relate to anyone: where do I end, and the others begin? I just sort of fade off into the cloudy distance. Anyone trying to find me could just walk right through me and never notice, neither of us changed by the interaction. You could just as well find a north-pole magnet with another north pole. You'll never get them together.

You need to understand something about God. He just doesn't know the meaning of "impossible." We look at jobs and say there's no way, especially when the job is one of repair or restoration. "It's not economical," we say. "Scrap it and start over. Tear it down. Build shiny and new. Total it."

God looks at aspects other than economics. It's not hard for me to believe that he doesn't care at all about economics; if you give him any kind of chance at all he'll go into the restoration business, no matter how much work he will have to do. He seems to look only at what can be if he's allowed to work. Even if he's not allowed full access, he will take his license as far as he possibly can and, like the deep-sea fisherman who reels in a half-ton fish one given inch at a time, God will move in to fill any space vacated by a tired soul.

God will chase and find any piece of a soul, no matter how tiny. He will restore it to perfect luster, the way it was meant to be, and then he will join it to the other pieces he has pursued and corralled.

The corral is far from a quiet place. The reason all those soul-bits were scattered in the first place is that they couldn't stand each other, the constant friction and fighting, no understanding, no patience, just rancor and judgment and undermining. For all of them to be in the same place, immersed in history, is explosive. There'd need to be a thousand corners in the corral for each to find small place to hide, but God made the place round.

It's an impossible situation and one responsible for millions of Prozac prescriptions. Running does no good because God is the perfect Shepherd, willing to leave 99 sheep to go and fetch the single lost one, and he won't quit. He collects the parts, contains the corral, and he slowly brings his hands together.

There is only one way this story will end. Fusion. Light strong enough to blow the basket to smithereens. Human fusion is far from cold, but God doesn't use heat to destroy the individual soul-bits and force their merger. He rains love on the whole disordered corral and gradually, oh so slowly, dissolves the wholeness-repellent that coats each proud lonely piece. Mosaic, sintered bronze, each little bit contributing something to the whole while retaining its bit-ness.

Only God would think of this. Only God would do it. Only God has the delicate, exquisitely sensitive touch necessary to capture fragments whose whole history is one of bitter fighting. Only the Prince of Peace could bring them all to the same place without having the whole place explode. What God brought together, I split asunder... and God is reuniting.

Initiated 2005 March 10 (as "Scattered Parts")
Finished March 11


Berean Sheep

It's fun to lampoon someone else's odd faith or silly habits. Those who buy the latest book of devotionals, followers of "Left Behind," holy rollers or the extreme conservatives.

Ah, if only one group had the truth. But Occam's Razor convinces me that all of us are wrong. There's only one real question: What does a real follower of Jesus look like? I'd bet that what we count on to mark the "spirit-filled Christian" has little in agreement with God's opinion.

Error is self-perpetuating because if anyone in our culture has learned how to think he's done it in spite of schooling. We're taught to be sheep, unquestioningly following whoever declares himself to be the Leader. "Follow me. I understand. You don't and you need me to teach you." The lesson is reinforced every time our government lies, with the lie backed up by the news reporters who are supposed to be digging into things so we can see some of the truth. Instead they work more on their hair than on their stories, and truth keeps banging on the door, begging for admittance.

If someone wants to be a really lively, dynamic follower of Jesus, how's he going to learn? There's a real spiritual smorgasbord out there, lots of tasty dishes that look beautiful but result in starvation. Empty calories. If all you grew up with is McDonald's, how in the world would you recognize real food if you found it? You'd probably spit it out.

If, by some odd chance, a person does manage to meet the Holy Spirit and really start to learn about God, what then? Everyone else thinks he's a weirdo. Categories were made for blind sheep. Real followers are one in 6.6 billion, and God wants more.

I am a sheep, living in a world of wolves. Most people have told me to adapt by becoming wolflike, but I think that's the wrong answer. What's needed is a special kind of sheep. One who knows enough to go on the lam from traditional Christianity, but landing in Jesus' arms instead of going alone into error. A sheep who will hear his Shepherd's voice quietly and persistently calling underneath the strident yammer of all the others. And then, even more radical, to go out through the gate with the real Shepherd.

Where will he lead? I don't know. I only know my story, not yours. Only God knows where you're supposed to be, not your pastor nor your friends. Nor your own ideas, which have been formed in a fallen world. We're all wrong, remember? Jesus had to die to make us right but that's just the start. We have to die daily to our own ideas of what's right.

Who would have thought of it? Only God. He wants us to be wise sheep. In our black-or-white, all-or-none world, a sheep is a ball of wool with the mind of a pea. Dumb as a box of rocks. They were bred to be that way. Human beings started with perfectly competent wild sheep and bred them into the brainless market animals they are today, just as they've done to the rest of us.

Jesus followed his Father perfectly, while being perfectly responsive to the situation around him as it was. He talks with people as they are. Healing starts only from the truth.

The Holy Spirit starts with scattered pieces of shattered souls. He patiently overcomes my resistance with honest love that finds a place in the whole for each shorn fragment. He says always the same thing: "Follow me. Learn to think and feel and live. You don't know anything about this, and I understand. I am teaching you."

And God surrounds me, holding everything even as I run. I feel his love and am able to go on another day. A balloon-sheep walking through an endless cactus garden with only God's hands to protect me, which he does so that my attention can be on things other than self-protection. I can be responsive to situations around me and shine with a light made of the Holy Spirit and my own feeble soul.

God went to a lot of effort to make and then forgive my bruised soul. He wants all of it, not just the little bit that makes it through the modern Christian filter of acceptable behavior. Jesus was the Lamb of God, but he's no sheep.

Initiated 2005 March 9 (as "What Does a Christian Look Like?", then "Sheep Following Sheep")
Completed March 11

Tuesday, March 08, 2005



The mind says "Keep going. We know this is right." All the pieces are laid out in order, rational and explicable. "No problem."
The heart responds, "No fuckin' way, pal!" and digs in. No manner of cajoling or persuasion will unstick the parking brake.

God is out there. We know he is. We, the whole mismatched community that makes up one wandering person, know he has prepared the way. We know, and have experienced, his promises. All the knowledge can't budge the fearing heart. "I'm not going that way. Forget it. There're dragons and tigers, monsters and mudholes, and all you're gonna do is get me out there and then abandon me. Like everyone else has. And the rest of you lot in here are no damned help at all, throwing me to the lions so that you can get out first. So, NO! I'm not going that way."

Well, that pretty well shuts down the program. Going on without a heart just isn't worth doing. I lived that way for years but thanks to God I now have some idea of what a heart is for. I feel lifeless without it. I used to overrule my heart with my mind; it got dragged into situations willy-nilly. Oh, sometimes it'd get a voice in the doings but most of the time it was like the small child on an adult journey: always holding things up. "Wait a minute, Harry, I've gotta change the little snot's diapers. Again."

Our whole culture is about power. Those with quieter or slower voices get shouted down by the quick and the loud, and they're expected to get in harness with the majority. I'm a non-majority kind of person, never interested in following the rest of the sheep to the latest fashion or the crash of rhinos over the nearest evangelical cliff. I use my mind to figure out which way to go and then I do it.

It's a rather lonely path. Off by myself, I never learned the language of social interaction. God is teaching me, word by word, and it seems to be a backward process. I left my heart behind years ago and now it's coming back into my life. I'm too old for this kind of crap. Learning to live with a heart? You're supposed to do that as a child. I should probably consider myself lucky to get another chance, but I was comfortable enough, thank you, so don't interfere by sticking your hand down into my little hole.

Don't tell me there's a new world out there, because I know it's a lie. Many promises made, but none of them is made good. The new world promise is just another way to get hurt. Forget it. Oz doesn't exist, Shangri-La is just like Kansas.

I stand on my side of the canyon, looking at the illusions on the other side, and wish they were real. God promises that they're real, but, yeow. You want me to trust, just one more time? That's what they all say as they run off with my resources.

The truth is I'm halfway across the canyon anyway, trying not to look at the space under my feet. The view ahead is scary enough: those tigers and dragons of history, ready to rise up against my challenge and eat me alive as they've done before. God's hand holds me lightly, surely, turning space into footing. Further truth: there are dragons behind, also. They're more familiar and therefore easier to live with, but no less ugly. As I wrote in a story a year or so ago, why wait for failure when I can wait for success?

I wrote that when I was optimistic. I didn't know what was coming. I didn't know the God of the Universe was going to take time off from kindling great balls of nuclear fire and reach into my soul. I figured a quick coat of new paint would be the extent of the job, but no. He has to start over again, going back to first principles and the original plan: Larry-committee reborn whole in Jesus' image.

He is tireless, implacable in his patience, and unswervable. His tenacity is the original the bulldog can only dream of. His light reaches far forward and when it hits those dragons they shrink into little bitty things, mewling and pissing on the floor. This would be encouraging except that I'm looking backward, using memory to navigate and in memory the teeth are long, the breath hot, the scales adamant. Run, while you have the chance.

Backward. Away from God. After a while it begins to seem pretty familiar. How many times do I have to repeat the lesson? Move away from God and the rain goes away, the plants wilt, the edges become dry and crisp.

Thus, stasis. Fearful heart, gung-ho (or just desperate) mind, worrying about God dropping me from a position in the middle of nowhere. He could just end it all, let go and find a more responsive person, except that's not his character. His love is fierce and complete. I can go forward, or I can go back, but he will not let go. He waits.

Jacob wrestled with God until God granted the blessing. I wrestle with God in an attempt to make him quit blessing me. Carl's little prayers ("God bless you even more, Larry...") don't help at all. Not one little bit.

It's a strange way to live. God invites me to follow him and then he provides everything I need to do so. Dependence. Like a sheep following, confused and lost, behind the shepherd. Yet in this dependency grows another kind of independence, a dependence upon a mind made more trustworthy for its intimacy with the Holy Spirit. The heart still quails, but can sense that its solo days of being the final stopper on any action are numbered. What will its role be in the remade committee?

No wonder I'm scared. God doesn't do whitewash and quick patches. Churches are happy with outward production. God is happy with nothing less that perfection. He looks at me and, by his grace sees me through Jesus, the intensity of his gaze burning away everything that doesn't fit his perfect image of me.

The light shatters, scattered by God-honed surfaces into the lives of others. We all wander around in a lightstruck daze, lives illuminating lives in ways we don't even know because none of us talks to each other. It's a lonely walk, crossing that chasm, and few are willing to risk making it lonelier by being laughed at by others who are safely anchored on the solid edge, built strong in their shared opinions.

God is our guide. He knows our Names and knows where our feet belong. I just wish my heart were safe someplace else.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Branching Out

Various old and new things have fallen together in a new way.

Over the years I've written a lot about sand sculpture. Many of these stories have been sort of collected into a never-published work called "Hands in the Sand." A friend of mine posted many of them on the Web in 1996 and I always intended to add them to Human Touch, my own Web site that I started in 1997. It never happened. Too much work to do the HTML conversion and then go through the hassles of logging on and using FTP to get the files in the right place.

So, here we are in 2005, and the publishing industry has changed. I've decided to try publishing "Hands in the Sand" as a Blog, with images. The first part of the story, "Wind, Sand and Psyche," has been posted. More will follow as I clean them up a bit and find their related images.

The general URL, by the way, is You'll find the table of contents there, and the first few stories. They should be read in sequence.


Third Try

Or is this the fourth? I've been experimenting with photo-hosting sites. I got into one but promptly forgot the URL and my password. Then I went to Village Photo, but it's too limited. Flickr got good reports so I tried it, but thought the whole process should be simpler. So, taking a hint from Saucy Suse, I've set up an account with Photobucket. Here's the result:

Prickly Phlox. An early spring chaparral flower. This is a close-up; the longer shots I made badly so am not posting them until I get new ones.

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